Since mid-June, the heat—humid, tropical, inescapable—had pressed down on great areas of the U.S. In the region around the Great Lakes, in New England and the middle Atlantic coast, the hottest summer on record was in the making. It had been equally hot or hotter in the South and parts of the Southwest, where such weather is more normal, but not more bearable. Last week, temperatures pushed even higher.

The burning days & nights tried the tempers of millions. In Detroit during the week, 45,000 automobile workers walked off the job because of "heat strikes." In Philadelphia, gangs of young...

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